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Q & A With Amanda Freitag

Anything but your boilerplate neighborhood Italian, Gusto’s outfitted in sleek black and white decor with Missoni striped barstools & vintage Viennese chandeliers.  Owner Sasha Muniak (Mangia & Centro Vinoteca) not only has an eye for design, but also talented chefs to implement this West Village spot’s seasonally-determined menu.  While Gusto debuted with Jody Williams, Amanda Freitag has skillfully stepped in, bringing her Mediterranean sensibilities to the table.  With a CIA education and considerable experience in some of New York’s most prominent kitchens (Vong, Cesca & Il Buco), she ably spices up the rustic cuisine with parmesan & prosciutto beignets, artichoke & pig’s feet-stuffed pork chop, and a roasted goat special on Wednesdays.

Status: Single/Married/Divorced
Single

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A dancer, I guess.  I still went for a high endurance career!

What was your first job in food?
I was a busboy, well busgirl.

After working with Jean-Georges, what inspired you to venture off
into Italian cuisine from French? 

I was first introduced to Mediterranean cuisine when working with Diane Forley and felt a natural affinity towards Italian.  My grandfather also influenced that side of me (Roger Grazioli) as well as he always cooked for the holidays. 

How have you integrated your extensive knowledge of French
techniques into Gusto’s seasonally-skewed Italian cuisine?

In a lot of our sauces and meat cookery.

You’ve worked with many notable chefs – Tom Valenti, Jean-Georges
and Sara Jenkins – what were some of your more memorable experiences in their
kitchens?
Jean-Georges really helped me develop my palate.  Diane Forley taught me how to appreciate the product itself; Tom Valenti showed me how to be bold with flavors; and Sara, I will be forever grateful for all her lessons.  I learned so much about Italy from her and pasta, and I always think about her when I am making pasta!

 

You took over the helm of the kitchen after Jody Williams.  Was
that at all intimidating and how did you tweak the menu to reflect your kitchen
personality?

Taking over a kitchen after another chef is always challenging.  I
always loved Jody’s food and was so lucky to have stepped into this role. The
menu reflects the way I love to cook, in a nurturing simple style.  I cook
what I would want to eat, seasonal and local with Italian integrity.

Gusto has a 60′s sleek black & white design with happily
yellow-tinged accents.  Do you find that the décor ever influences your
dishes?

No, I feel it just compliments the dishes.

There’s obviously a bit of an Italian trattoria trend happening in
NYC…what do you make of it?

I think the Mediterranean diet is the best way to
eat and a lot of New Yorkers are aware of this and the Italian trattoria trend
provides for the demand. And besides Italian in New York
is better than it has ever
been!!!

What’s your favorite dish on the menu, and why?
You know this is
tough to choose.  I really love the daily specials we do, but the scallops on the
menu is one of my favorites. It has everything sweet, salty, bitter &
creamy, yum!

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
I have
no problem picking one – carciofi alla giudea (fried artichokes).  It is a staple on our menu and
everyone loves it except me!

What is your junk food of choice?
I rarely eat junk food; I really
love pizza of any kind at all hours of the day. I have a weakness for chocolate
chip cookies that I will never grow out of!!

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
My
favorite restaurant is “Al di La” in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

 

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
I love the fact that chefs
are becoming more aware of local, sustainable cuisine and going a little more
“green”.  We, as an industry, can really make a difference on the
environment.

What trend do you wish would die already?
Pork belly everything.  I
love it too, but enough already.

What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants
in the works? Spill the beans…

It is all about GUSTO!

Address: 60 Greenwich St, nr. Seventh Ave.
Phone: 212.924.8000

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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